Why NASA Is Celebrating Obama's Victory

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 8 2012 2:20 PM

Why NASA Is Celebrating Obama's Victory

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A view of the Earth appears over the Lunar horizon as the Apollo 11 Command Module comes into view

Photo by NASA/Newsmakers.

President Obama's re-election is shaping up to be great news for NASA.

Those In The Know tell Space.com that the space agency is likely to reveal a set of ambitious goals now that the president has locked up another four years in office.

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Assuming that the rumored plans are indeed true, the next twenty to thirty years of space exploration might play out like a real-life Carl Sagan fantasy. Items on the rumored docket include: more manned missions to the moon, a manned outpost on the far side of the moon, a mission sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and the commencement of manned missions to Mars by the mid-2030s.

According to space policy expert and George Washington University professor emeritus John Logsdon, the game plan has already been given the go-ahead by the White House, but senior NASA officials had decided to keep their plans under wraps until they were certain that Obama would be back in the Oval Office for a second term. 

Mitt Romney had spoken plainly about his plans to re-evaluate the purpose of government-sponsored space missions, thereby leaving agency officials uncertain that their ambitious plans would remain feasible under a Republican-controlled executive branch. With this fear alleviated by Romney’s defeat, most signs point to an impending announcement from the agency about the future of American space exploration.

Here’s Space.com with some more background and details:

In 2010, President Obama directed NASA to work toward sending astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s. To reach such deep-space destinations, the agency is developing a huge rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and a crew capsule named Orion.
But astronauts likely won't head straight to a space rock when SLS and Orion are ready to fly together in 2021. In the last year, word has begun leaking out that NASA wants to explore Earth-moon L2 a point in space that lies beyond the moon's far side, as a precursor ... so NASA (and perhaps international partners) can learn more about supporting humans in deep space. Astronauts stationed there could also aid in lunar exploration — by teleoperating rovers on the moon's surface, for example.
NASA officials think they can pull off such manned missions without busting their budget, which stands at $17.7 billion in the proposed 2013 federal budget.

It is worth noting, however, that this news isn’t exactly 100 percent out of the blue. In September, NASA deputy chief Lori Garver had been blunt about what the space agency had cooking, saying "we're going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars."

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate Video blogger.

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